SBA/RR Challenge, Current Events, Starbucks Memories and Starbucks Incident in Philly

As most everyone knows now, an ugly incident took place in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. 

A Starbucks employee called 911 to complain that two men were in the store refusing to make a purchase.  Police were dispatched, arrested the men, and took them to the police station.

The men were black, and some immediately called the arrest a racist act, but things seem to be more complicated than that. 

Starbucks is a private business, and at least some stores have a policy that you can’t use the bathroom unless you buy something.  The two men arrested claimed they were waiting on a friend.  The store employee felt that the men were loitering.  The Starbucks in the 1800 block of Spruce is in a fairly gentrified area of Philadelphia, according to reports, and some have ventured that the act may have been engendered by perceived wealth disparity with neighborhood residents.  Not every black person thinks that this was a case of racism.

Since the incident the CEO of Starbucks has apologized.  The employee is no longer working at the store, but we don’t know whether that employee was fired or simply transferred.

My experience with Starbucks began in the early 1990s in Seattle. 


Curt Cobain

Looking more mainstream than most of the Ave. residents in the early 1990s.

Curt Cobain had just died, and The Last Exit on Brooklyn (a ‘60s coffee house seminal in starting the coffee culture in Seattle) had closed. The “Ave” in the University of Washington District was a hangout for every sort of “alternative” person imaginable.  There were tattoos, piercings, hair dyed Manic Panic colors, and there was a coffee stand on almost every corner with a barista making coffee for the rain-soaked and chilled residents of the city.

Residents of the Ave slept on the street in some cases and used the coffee shop restrooms.  I can understand how Starbucks’ policy of requesting a purchase before use of the facilities may have started.

I remember meeting a couple on the street near the University of Washington campus whose faces I can still see vividly.  He had a homemade tattoo of a spider on the end of his nose with a spider web covering his face.  He looked angry, was older than she, and his spider looked like a prison tattoo.

The girl, by contrast, was young, had piercings, one half of her head was shaved with a multicolor tattoo all within her hairline, and on the other side of her head her hair was spiked and dyed green.

He glared at me as they walked by.  She was staring at the ground.

While they were extreme, it was not by much.  Starbucks was already rising to the level of being successful enough to go public.  The company had a ready supply of “hippie kids” there and as Starbucks spread the stores seemed to prefer to hire alternative kids.  Because there were very few minority residents in Seattle then, those alternative kids were white.

In recent years, though, things have changed.   We have a Starbucks here, but it is in an Engle’s grocery, and the employees that make your coffee concoction look just like everyone else in this area, white and working class, and that’s what I’ve noticed around the South.  Unless the Starbucks is in a college town there are no hippie kids behind the counter.  In areas where there are significant numbers of black or Hispanic residents that is reflected in the employee mix.

What bothers me most about this incident, I think, is that the confrontation at the Starbucks escalated to the point that the police were called and the two men were arrested.  Things have changed so much in America.

When I was a college student hitchhiking around the Northwest I got stuck in Pocatello, Idaho.  I spent the day moving through town with my thumb out and finally around dusk I went into a 24 hour diner, threw my duffel bag on the seat and ordered a cup of coffee and nothing to eat because I had no money.  A middle aged woman brought me a cup of coffee and every hour or so asked if I needed a refill. 

I spent the whole night in the diner and was never bothered by anyone.  I looked scruffy.  I had been working and living in the same clothes all summer, and had a beard.  The next morning I got back out on the road, and eventually got a ride all the way to the western part of Nebraska.

I wasn’t hassled, much less arrested, for loitering, but I don’t know how I would have been treated had I been black, Hispanic or Indian, and that is the innocence that has been referred to as White Privilege.




Views: 1132

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 5:37am

I assume you had enough change to pay for the coffee or they wouldn’t have served you. Am I correct in that assumption?

If I’m the road, with or without family, and we stop at a gas station to use the bathroom when we don’t need gas, we buy a candy bar or something because it’s a business, not a public restroom. 

I haven’t followed this case closely. Did the friend ever show up? 

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 19, 2018 at 6:02am

I had enough money for the coffee and a little more in my wallet, but I had no idea how long it would take to get back home.  It took four days.  I don't remember eating anywhere.

My understanding is that the friend did not show up.  Also, the two men refused to leave when the Starbucks manager explained the store policy.  I think there may be more we don't know.  The men have lawyers and may have been instructed not to talk.

We do the same thing when traveling.  I buy a bottle of water, some gum, a cup of coffee; something. If I'm using the facilities.

I have actually seen signs in out of the way places saying, "Please buy something."

Comment by Maui Surfer on April 19, 2018 at 6:53am

This post is troubling. I've barely paid attention to this, yet have still heard, from witnesses, that the men's friend showed up. That the witnesses begged the police not to do this, that the whole thing STINKS TO HIGH HELL OF RACISM IN THE FIRST DEGREE, and, that Philadelphia in general has a long herstory of racist BS and just is a general hell hole overall if you ask me, and I've been there a number of times. Like South Boston, it simply has about a few centuries of the worst behavior in the world to deal with, and that process is nowhere near complete. I hitchhiked around the country, and around the world, in the 60s ... for every decent person I came across the hate was palpable nearly half the time at least, but only in America.

Comment by alsoknownas on April 19, 2018 at 7:04am

Well now.

Maybe if they had just bought a candy bar, eh?

I've read the responses these young men had about the experience. They were there to begin a business meeting. They are very clear about that, and quite articulate as they do so. Nobody with an ounce of brains would say differently after reading it.

I assume when the clerk approached that the response was just as mild and articulate.

Loitering? Please.

The racist clerk called and in return got two police officers without any ability to discern reality.

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 7:29am

I was asking from the standpoint of not a lot of familiarity with the case. If a couple of guys were sitting there waiting for a friend and holding off on ordering because they wanted to order at the same time, this is racism. It’s perfectly common to arrive at a place to eat before someone you’re meeting gets there. And in Starbucks, there isn’t a waiting area where you wait to be seated, so the place to wait is at a table. Hell, I once met a fellow blogger at a diner and of course one of us arrived first. 

Did anyone come over to them and say “we need you to order something to hold down the table”? This would have been so easy to handle.

If there wasn’t an actual refusal to order (as opposed to a refusal to leave), I don’t get how we got to cops. 

Starbucks is expensive but not that expensive. You can get an iced coffee for two bucks. 

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on April 19, 2018 at 7:29am

If there is any doubt that this was a racially motivated arrest, this statement, from Starbucks' executive chairman Howard Schultz, should put this to rest because even HE thinks it was:

"I'm embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level."

BTW, the man they were waiting to have a business meeting with arrived while they were being arrested.

P.S.  You'd think they'd learn.  Back in 2015 Starbuck's got slammed (and publicly apologized) for not allowing another man access to their restrooms.  This was noteworthy because the man in question was a uniformed police officer.

Comment by Steel Breeze on April 19, 2018 at 7:30am

i seen this happen actually many times, tho each time involving whites......i think cops involved was unnecessary unless a threat happened...i see this mostly in winter in bar in a crappy area where street folk come in just to warm up and the owner tosses them if they dont buy something and says seats are for paying guy came in regular and bought a bottle of water and stayed till he warmed up....guess its a judgement call i cant make unless i was a business owner....

Comment by koshersalaami on April 19, 2018 at 7:31am

While they were being arrested?

And that’s what their chairman said?

Case closed.

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on April 19, 2018 at 7:35am

Y'all know that Starbucks closed 8,000 of their stores for a day to hold racial sensitivity training because of this, right?  

That had to cost BIG bucks and they sure wouldn't have done that unless they knew what happened was totally jacked up.

Comment by alsoknownas on April 19, 2018 at 7:36am

The completely perplexed business associate who arrived after the men were being arrested can be seen on video captured at the time.

I have not seen yet if he ordered a coffee or needed to use the restroom but he did avoid arrest despite behaviors that would commonly cause one trouble for interfering with the police.

He is white.


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